What Is a Tandem Kayak? (And How to Buy One)

Ah, summertime–when the weather is nice and the water beckons. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of cutting through waves and experiencing total unity with nature.

Wouldn’t it be great to share this experience with someone else? In the same boat?

Q: What is a tandem kayak?

A: A kayak designed to fit two people.

Picture it: two people paddling together, each one controlling a part of the kayak’s movement–a rhythmic dance where you and your paddling partner work together to propel your tandem kayak forward. 

Sure, operating a tandem may take some getting used to. But once you master the art of paddling together, it becomes very fun (and second nature).

A good tandem kayak offers rewarding and incredible experience, but it also makes for a memorable trip!

At Wave Gurus, we’ve tried every kind of boat under the sun and we’d rank tandems near the top when it comes to kayaking and fishing.

I was told this when I started, and it still rings true: tandem kayaks are great for beginners and seasoned paddlers alike.

Tandem vs Single Kayak (aka Single Paddler vs Paddling With Friends) 

What distinguishes a tandem kayak from a single kayak? 


These accommodate two people. Commonly known as a double kayak or a two-person kayak, they’re typically propelled with synchronized paddling, which is a fun and rewarding method. 

This kayak’s length is typically longer than a single kayak to provide enough space for both paddlers.


A single kayak, sometimes referred to as a solo kayak, is built for one person. They are shorter and lighter, making them ideal for paddling solo.

(To learn more about one of our favorite single-person fishing kayaks, click here!)

Depending on the configuration, tandems can allow beginners to learn from an experienced paddler, who usually sits in the back to control the kayak.

A single kayak offers the thrill of maneuvering the waters alone and the freedom to paddle at your own pace.

What Is a Tandem Kayak? Exploring the Best of Both Worlds

If you want to kayak with a friend, family member, or loved one, then you’ll need a tandem kayak. If you want to go alone, get a single kayak. 

Tandem kayaks are the perfect choice for activities that require lots of gear, like fishing. With the additional space and stability, you can easily manage your gear and enjoy a lazy fishing outing with a friend.

And say you have a friend (or partner!) who wants someone to give them a tour of a beautiful pond without having to lift a finger. You can do that in a tandem. 

They’re a fantastic way to explore the outdoors with another person. 

They’re sometimes used in therapy sessions for veterans with spinal injuries because “there are two people to help paddle and save energy, there is social interaction with another person, and also increased balance by having a larger vessel.”

Unveiling the Features of a Tandem Kayak: From Double Kayak Space to Sit-On-Top Design

Here’s how it works: in a tandem kayak, one person sits in the front and the other person takes the back seat. The person in the front usually sets the pace; the person in the back controls the kayak’s direction. 


These boats feature an open, flat deck instead of an enclosed cockpit. They’re perfect if you’re uncomfortable in enclosed spaces. Sit-on-top kayaks tend to be less likely to capsize.


These provide enhanced stability, so they’re great for beginners! Their enclosed design offers better protection from the elements. Sit-inside tandems typically have more storage space.

Storage is ample in both styles; with the ability to fit two people, tandem kayaks also offer increased storage for all your gear and provisions. This attribute makes them ideal for longer trips or activities like fishing (where sit on top models shine).

Weight Capacity

Each tandem kayak comes with a specific weight limit–pay attention to this number! The weight capacity will greatly affect the kayak’s performance and safety, so be sure to consider this when deciding on the type of kayak to purchase.

For more information on weight capacities, see our article “Kayak Weight Limits (2023 Guide)”.

How to Paddle a Tandem Kayak

This has caused many arguments and I’ve even seen couples clash over paddle technique, so make sure you get it right!

The fundamental rule is to paddle on the same side in unison. When paddling in a tandem, each stroke is important and can either enhance or hinder your kayaking experience. A lot of paddlers prefer the forward sweep and reverse sweep techniques. 

The forward sweep on one side involves a wide, sweeping paddle movement at the front of the kayak, which propels the boat forward. To turn the kayak, one paddler performs a forward sweep while the other performs a reverse sweep on the opposite side, which pivots the boat.

The Role of the Person in the Back

I’m usually the person in the back. It’s good to be the person in the back–it means you know what you’re doing. 

This individual, often more experienced than the person in front, is primarily responsible for controlling the kayak’s direction.

They follow the cadence of the person in front, help maintain a steady course, and make necessary adjustments en route to their destination. 

The Role of the Front Paddler

The front paddler sets the pace and helps with turns and propulsion. As mentioned above, the front paddler can execute a sharp change in direction with a forward sweep stroke. 

Buying Guide: How to Choose the Perfect Tandem Kayak

Most people, when they want to kayak with another person, are confronted with two options: Do I buy one tandem kayak or two individual kayaks? And while owning two kayaks offers each paddler their own space and freedom, a tandem kayak fosters teamwork and is a great option for families or partners.

When looking for a good tandem kayak, pay attention to the kayak’s size, build quality, storage space, and weight capacity.

Speaking of storage, consider where you’ll keep the kayak when it’s not in use. Some tandem kayaks are inflatable, making them easier to store. Think about storing your kayak in a dry, shaded area to protect it from the elements. 

Kayaks on the market vary significantly in price, size, and features. It’s best to identify your needs first.

Are you planning recreational paddling? Fishing? Camping? Extra-long expeditions? The purpose will dictate the type of tandem kayak that suits you best.

Prioritize comfort. Pick a boat with comfortable seats and sufficient legroom.

Yes, there are cons to using a tandem kayak, just as there are cons to using any type of boat. 

Tandems have their own unique challenges. Like the risk of capsizing. 

Without effective communication and coordination, you and your partner could find your boat surprisingly quickly tipping over. But if you make sure both paddlers paddle in unison and one person controls the kayak, the risk of capsizing can be minimized.

Also, we find that often tandem kayaks are harder to understand and maneuver, especially for beginners. The addition of an extra person means extra weight, which makes them a little harder to control.

And they can be quite heavy, especially the cheaper models, which makes portaging a little difficult. But not to worry! There are carts for this sort of thing. 

Beginners might struggle to keep the boat running straight or making sharp turns.

Despite these challenges, remember that tandem kayaks are extremely stable and fantastic for beginners. 


What’s better than hitting the water with a buddy for an afternoon of exploration and fun?

They’re great for creating memories, great for calm bodies of water, great for fishing, great for exploring, great for camping–overall, they’re just great. 

We love tandem kayaks at Wave Gurus. If you’re on the fence, try a few out and see how it goes. We’re sure you’ll love them, too!


What are the benefits of using a tandem kayak?

It allows you to share the experience with a partner or friend in a stable vessel. This can be especially beneficial if you’re both new to kayaking or if one person wants a break while you’re out on the water. 

Is a tandem kayak the same thing as a SUP?

No, a tandem kayak is not the same as a SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard). A tandem kayak is designed for two people to sit and paddle in unison, taking a forward sweep together. Tandem kayaks usually offer everything you need, whether you prefer a sit-on-top model or a center position design, and they can support a maximum weight capacity that would typically exceed that of a SUP.

How do I paddle a tandem kayak?

Both kayakers should sit facing forward. The person in the back should take control of steering the kayak and should follow the lead of the person in front. The one in the front should set the pace and help provide momentum.

Do they make an inflatable kayak that’s a tandem? 

Yes, there are plenty of inflatable tandem kayaks. They’re great because they’re easy to transport and can be stored just about anywhere after deflation; also, they’re typically more affordable than rigid tandem kayaks, making them a popular choice for recreational kayaking.

Are tandem kayaks the right choice if I’m trying to introduce someone to kayaking? What are the common configurations?

A good quality tandem is a great option if you’re looking to introduce someone to kayaking. These kayaks tend to allow for sit-on-top or sit-inside configurations depending on what you or your kayaking partner prefer. Especially if you’re new to kayaking, a tandem kayak may be the best to get as it offers a lot of flexibility, whether you want a calm recreational outing or a more adventurous one.

Can I use a tandem kayak for fishing?

Absolutely, tandem kayaks are ideal for fishing! Especially if they are sit-on-top. There are a ton of tandem models that have been designed specifically for fishing. These kayaks are a great option for anglers who want to enjoy the company of a kayaking partner while casting their reel.

Image Credits
Photo 1 by David Bocah
Photo 2 by Max Böhme
Photo 3 by hitesh choudhary
Photo 4 by Andrei Lazar

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